Chasing the Postseason: 2021 Marlboro High School Football Preview
Marlboro’s pursuit of an elusive NJSIAA postseason berth that has escaped its clutches for two decades was put on hold in 2020, when there was no statewide postseason due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As it turned out, 2020 might not have been the year anyway, as the Mustangs went 1-6 with the worst point differential (minus-146) in the Shore Conference.
This year’s Marlboro squad will feature offensive and defensive units loaded with new players, as just three starters return on the offense with four coming back on the defensive side of the ball. There are four returning starters back on offense if you include quarterback A.J. Schwartz, who moves from varsity receiver to signal-caller for a group that will lean on returning senior running-back Zach Mendes.
Finding athletes to deploy on both sides of the ball has not been a stretch in recent years and head coach Jason Dagato is hopeful the program can keep bringing those quality athletes out and turning them into the first playoff team at Marlboro since the early 2000’s. Marlboro has turned the corner with a lot of its other boys programs and the football team is a couple breaks from being the latest feel-good story at the school.
Marlboro at a Glance
Projected Starters (RS=Returning Starter)
QB: A.J. Schwartz, Jr.
RB: Zach Mendes, Sr., RS; Dylan Miccoli, Jr.
FB: Thomas Cammarano, Sr.; Nolan Jones, Jr.
WR: Ryan Mendes, Jr.
WR: Joe Weiss, Sr.
TE: Lucas McEvoy, Jr.
LT: Loren Gunin, Sr.
LG: Mike Giancaspro, Sr., RS
C: Peter Budveit, Jr.
RG: Lou Ogno, So.
RT: Corey Shanin, Jr., RS
DE: Corey Shanin, Jr.
DT: Loren Gunin, Sr.; Mike Giancaspro, Sr., RS
DE: Peter Budveit, Jr.
OLB: Thomas Cammarano, Sr.
ILB: Zach Mendes, Sr., 3RS
ILB: Nolan Jones, Jr.
OLB: Ryan Mendes, Jr., RS
CB: Joe Weiss, Sr.
CB: Keith Omane-Agyei, Sr.
SS: Jake Houston, Jr.
FS: A.J. Schwartz, Jr., RS
K: Max Foley, Jr.
P: Max Foley, Jr.
Head Coach: Jason Dagato, ninth season
Career Record: 17-60
Record Last Five Years:
Assistant Coaches: Reid Stapp (Def. Coordinator/RB/LB), Jim Papalia (Special Teams/WR/DL), Bill Cook (OL/DL), Tom Caporale (QB/DB), Ryan Cassidy (RB/LB), Cory Varrial (Freshman), William Oplinger (Freshman), Anais Mixson (Athletic Trainer)
Player to Watch: Zach Mendes, Sr., RB/LB
Mendes is the most established player returning for the Mustangs in 2021 after playing middle linebacker and serving as a featured back on the offense during his junior season. He’ll reprise both roles this season and will look to be a leader for a Marlboro team without a whole lot of experience while also increasing his individual production.
“I think on a team that’s as young as we are, you are looking for leadership and Zach provides good leadership,” Dagato said. “He is there every day, whether it’s practice or the weight room and he is putting in the work. From a playmaking standpoint, he’s our guy too. The key for us is going to be getting guys involved around him and allowing him to work as part of the overall offense and I think A.J. Schwartz has done a good job of keeping everyone involved so far.”
Players Under the Radar: Loren Gunin, Sr., LT/DT
Gunin got some run last year but has made major strides heading into his senior year, according to Dagato. After holding his own in a part-time role last season, Gunin convincingly made his case to be the starting left tackle on offense and will pair with returning starter Mike Giancaspro in the nose tackle rotation.
“Loren didn’t play much last year, but he put on some really good weight and he has been a pleasant surprise,” Dagato said. “I think he factored into our plans heading into the offseason but the way he has looked so far, he has a chance to be big plus for us on either side of the ball.”
Impact Newcomers: Matt Cassidy and Anthony Tropeano (So., RB/LB)
A wave of younger players will have to make a major impact for Marlboro this season, including a sophomore class led Cassidy and Tropeano. It is up in the air whether either will start on opening week, but both are likely to work their way into regular snaps somewhere on the field and quite possibly on both sides of the ball.
“They are both going to see time somewhere,” Dagato said. “Matt Cassidy can play just about anywhere and this year, you could see him at linebacker or in the secondary and then either in the backfield or at receiver – whether that’s in the slot or out wide.”
Top Position Group: Skill Players and Defensive Line
Mendes and his younger brother, Ryan, are two potential game-breakers on the offensive side of the ball and senior receiver Joe Weiss and junior tight end Lucas McEvoy also have play-making ability in an offense that will be turned over to a solid quarterback in A.J. Schwartz. On the other side of the ball, experienced seniors Peter Budveit and Corey Shanin will play on the ends while Giancaspro and Gunin handle the nose tackle job.
“Looking at it right now, I think the defensive line and our skill guys on offense are two groups I think we can lean on,” Dagato said. “I think our experience on the d-line is going to be a strength and on offense, not a lot of the guys are returning starters but the athleticism is there and they are all learning pretty quickly so far, so I think there is potential for them to make an impact.”
Big Shoes to Fill: A.J. Schwartz, Jr., QB/FS
Nick Wright was an all-around athlete and leader at the quarterback position last year, but Schwartz is ready to step in. The new Mustangs starter took snaps at the position on jayvee last season to stay in tune with the offense and the responsibilities, then made his contribution to the varsity team as a wide receiver to keep calibrated with the speed of the varsity game.
“A.J. is a natural quarterback who played wide receiver last year in order to get on the field and help us at the varsity level,” Dagato said. “Technically, he is changing positions this year but I would say last year was the year he had to learn a new position. This year, he is back in his element and I would expect us to be pretty solid at quarterback.”
Youth can be a burden for a coaching staff but for a team coming off a 1-6 season, it is an opportunity. Marlboro’s incoming group of sophomores and juniors has promise and with some progress on an offensive line led by Giancaspro, Shanin and Budveit, there is potential for the Mustangs offense to do damage.
Saturday, Sept. 11 vs. Matawan, noon
Friday, Sept. 17 at Neptune, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 25 vs. Freehold Twp., noon
Friday, Oct. 1 at Central, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9 vs. Howell, noon
Friday, Oct. 15 at Brick Memorial, 7 p.m.